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Cronulla Sharks 2018 season review

To win an NRL Premiership just about everything needs to go right, but after an injury-plagued 2018 reaching the preliminary final was an achievement in itself for the Cronulla Sharks.

They faced nowhere near as many challenges during their drought-breaking 2016 premiership run. By the end of 2018, their casualty ward wasn't lacking in top-shelf talent. Wade Graham, Josh Dugan, Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen were all badly missed for extended periods of time.

On the field, the Sharks spine took some time to come together, with three different fullbacks used in the first six weeks of the competition. After Valentine Holmes, Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan shared the No.1 jersey, Holmes eventually made the position his own.

Best player: Valentine Holmes had a slow start to the season, but after gaining selection for another Origin series he returned to club football and enjoyed a superb second half of the season. Special mention must also go to Chad Townsend. Once Holmes and Townsend were firing, the Sharks were a different side.

What-if moment: In round 21, the Sharks scored 32 points in the home match against Manly - and still lost. They won their last four matches to finish in a four-way tie for top spot, but the minor premiership would have been firmly on the cards if they had won that match.

Match Highlights: Storm v Sharks - Round 22, 2018

The quote: "The referees are doing just what they're told to do. We've been talking about this for a month now. What you saw at the end of the game is because of the 19-14 penalty count. Players are getting frustrated ... penalty after penalty," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan after his drama-charged 14-4 win over the Storm in round four.

Best win: There are very few teams that beat the Melbourne Storm twice in a season so their 17-14 victory over them at AAMI Park in round 22 was one to remember.

Worst loss: The biggest loss of the season came when defeated 40-20 by the St George Illawarra Dragons in round six. It was a long night for Sharks fans in Wollongong.

Roster rotation: After playing 324 games, Luke Lewis has retired from the NRL. Their big signing is the arrival of Josh Morris from the Bulldogs. In other departures, Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee are moving to the Knights and Kurt Dillon will join the Rabbitohs. Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack) and Joseph Paulo (St Helens) are heading overseas to continue their careers.

Holmes finishes in spectacular style

2019 outlook: If the Sharks can keep their key players on the field, another year in the finals is on the cards. One thing they will be desperate for is to get a full season out of Wade Graham. When fit and firing, Graham is arguably the Sharks best attacking player. The arrival of Morris will provide some muscle in the outside backs. When you throw Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Aaron Woods, Valentine Holmes, Josh Dugan and Jason Bukuya into the mix, a deep run in next year's finals is a distinct possibility.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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